Movie Review – The Nun

Whatever you do, don’t stop praying… that the Conjuring universe is going to start having spin-offs that can live up to their ilk.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

1952, Romania. After a young nun takes her own life at a monastery, the Vatican dispatches a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), and a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Guided by the monastery’s supply boy Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the pair soon find their stay in the foreboding castle take a turn for the life-threatening, as a supernatural presence reveals itself.

The mega-success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe structure has long since left the realm of superhero blockbusters. Now, every studio is taking a crack across varying genres. The first horror shared universe – The Conjuring Universe – has a high hit-to-miss rate. The latest spin-off spook straight out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s museum of haunted objects is The Nun, which is a bit of a small-fry next to its creepier predecessors.

Putting front-and-centre the scary sister who plagued Lorraine in The Conjuring 2, The Nun places us on the earliest point in the Conjuring timeline, some twenty years before the events of the main series. Heavily marketed as the “darkest chapter”, it’s ironically the lightest in terms of narrative, scares and overall substance. The Catholic investigation set-up is promising enough, but once the holy duo settles in at the monastery, all story progression is dropped in favour of set piece after set piece, few of which actually manage to rattle the bones.

The titular Nun herself fails to live up to her previously established eeriness. While certainly unsettling as a dark figure floating ominously in a hallway, up-close she’s all CGI fangs and bug-eyes, a goofy choice that drains all sense of dread.

Mother inferiors aside, The Nun still has its merits. Slickly shot and atmospheric, there’s at least enough entertainment value here. The cast mostly succeeds too, in particular the spirited Taissa Farmiga, who is every bit as watchable as her older sister Vera in the main Conjuring films. It’ll be interesting to see if they pair the two up in a future instalment. Of course, if the Conjuring cinematic universe is to endure, let’s hope they start putting the same amount of effort into their side dishes as they do the main course.

The Nun is available in Australian cinemas from September 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films


Movie Review – Hereditary

Trauma-inducing, nerve pounding, soul shredding satanic fun for the whole family.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

When the reclusive grandmother of the Graham family passes away, strange things begin to happen to her descendants. Her daughter Annie (Toni Collette) attends support groups where she reveals the troubles her family has faced and her strained relationship with her son Peter (Alex Wolff). After a bid to get her introverted daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) socialising more with Peter ends in another horrific demise, Annie’s family deteriorates further. Much to the disdain of her sceptical husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Annie attempts to communicate with her daughter through séances, and in the process unravels some dark and terrifying secrets about the Graham family ancestry.

It’s often interesting to reflect on the marketing campaigns behind independent horror films. Looking back at the trailers for first-time feature director Ari Aster’s Hereditary makes it seem like an event packed to the brim with moments designed to make viewers jump out of their seats – in other words, a mainstream horror crowd. In reality, there’s approximately one, maybe two jump scares total in Hereditary. Those more accustomed to independent horror will likely expect the slow burn and favour of disturbing imagery over things going bang, while a more casual viewer could be in for an unexpected shock. In that sense, perhaps the marketing team behind Hereditary are geniuses; deliberately misleading a larger crowd into seeing a film that will truly disturb and rattle them to the core.

Aster’s jaw-dropping debut is a difficult beast to define. In some senses, it feels like a patchwork threaded together from things we’ve already seen; there’s the haunted house sensibilities and ritualism of mainstays like The Conjuring and Insidious, and the oppressively patient atmosphere and satanic phenomenon of A24’s last horror hit, The Witch. But uniquely, Hereditary feels only half of a horror film; it builds immense tension doubling as a distressingly dysfunctional family drama.

At the film’s beating heart is the great Toni Collette, who goes against her quirky mum type from the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and United States of Tara. Here she’s one monster of a matriarch, making herself deeply sympathetic as she copes poorly with the agony of losing both her mother and daughter, while simultaneously revealing herself as terrifyingly unstable.

As is usually the case with films like these, it’s best entering Hereditary knowing as little as possible about what’s about to unfold. It’s yet another stunning debut from a director to watch, and another triumph from the ever-creative A24.

Hereditary is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – Cargo

In a post-apocalyptic Australia, Martin Freeman plays Andy, a man roaming the outback desperate to find sanctuary for his daughter before he turns into a zombie. Along the way, he encounters Thoomi a young girl who agrees to help Andy if for nothing more than the company in a vastly decreasing population of unaffected people.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

Cargo, from first time filmmakers Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, follows the story of Andy as he desperately tries to make his way across the outback in a post-apocalyptic Australia to try and get his one-year-old daughter to safety before he succumbs to a zombie virus. Along the way, he meets Thoomi, a young girl who is to protect her zombified father from being killed and who may just be able to help lead him and his daughter to safety.

Zombie films are hard sells nowadays, and a zombie film in the outback an even harder one. With the ever growing list of zombie franchises such as the popular TV series The Walking Dead, iZombie and Santa Clarita Diet, and the endless Resident Evil films, not to mention the standalone films Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead and World War Z (just to name a few), there are few angles left to take.

Surprisingly, Cargo manages to carefully straddle the line between formulaic and unique to present a film that is recognisable enough in its themes and plot for audiences to understand they’re watching a zombie film, but its careful characterisation and location choice ultimately present a different take on the whole zombie epidemic.

Martin Freeman is brilliant as the helpless Andy who’s just trying to keep his family safe. His paternal protectiveness of his young daughter Rosie is his drive throughout the entire film, and is played to such precision that it gives the whole film purpose, that is often missing from traditional zombie films. Newcomer Simone Landers is wonderfully strong and insightful as Thoomi. Her powerful belief in her culture’s traditional rituals is never portrayed as naïve but instead is a sliver of hope in a largely doomed world.

Ultimately this film isn’t about a zombie-virus invasion or white vs. Indigenous culture; it is simply a story of survival, where the outback is no longer a dangerous environment but actually a sanctuary, and where the people remaining are trying to survive in any way they know how. Whilst the film contains the necessary drone shots of the Australian outback for the international viewers, it portrays the outback in a completely different way as well, almost as Australians see it rather than something to be feared.

I’d definitely recommend giving this film a watch, if not for a different take on Australian culture in cinema or a unique offering to the zombie genre, then at least for Martin Freeman owning this role like a boss.

Cargo is available in Australian cinemas from May 17 

Image courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

Movie Review – Unsane

Amateurish in design and cheesy in execution; Unsane is far from Steven Soderbergh’s finest.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Unsane has all the ingredients of a proper thriller. It is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose movies have been very popular and successful. It stars Claire Foy, who is undeniably masterful in it. It’s carefully put together. Yet somehow it ends up resembling a middling student project. I can’t say it’s because the entire film was shot on an iPhone 7 (the cinematography lends it a certain immediacy). No, I think it’s because it’s miserably confused, and uses cheap tactics for maximum effect.

The plot, devised by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, is strange in that it aspires to uncover how insurance scams are in partnership with corrupt mental health facilities, while also striving to be a gruesome psychological thriller in which a perceived stalker may or may not be an actual stalker. The stalker story works, more or less. So does the horrid truth that agencies claiming to treat the mentally wounded might in fact be scamming them. The problem is the two stories don’t work together, which makes their credibility awfully suspect.

Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, an office worker who’s convinced her stalker has followed her from Boston. She consults a shrink and in a flash she’s confined to a hospital bed for seven days. But wait, could that strange orderly who gazes uncomfortably at her actually be the man she’s been running away from? How could he have found her?

I wouldn’t dream of telling you if the orderly is indeed her stalker, even though knowing isn’t that big of a deal. Much of the mental hospital portion plays like a tribute to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), but without the rigid domineering figure of a Nurse Ratched to really amp up the suspense. It is a world designed to remove power from those deemed too unstable to control it themselves.

Soderbergh, whose great films include Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) and Side Effects (2013), seems to have approached Unsane as an experiment he never really prepares for. He has at his feet two genuine issues to tackle; a movie about either one could have been something magical. Instead, people start dying, chases abound and all nuance is flung out the window. At least he has Claire Foy, who supports Unsane with the strength of a legion and very nearly makes it work. Observe a late scene set in solitary confinement. Brilliant stuff.

Unsane is available in Australian cinemas from April 26 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Truth or Dare

Truth? This movie sucks…

Josip Knezevic

Nowadays, it’s pretty difficult to find a horror film that’s genuinely terrifying; jump scares and creepy monsters lurking in the dark just don’t cut it anymore. Truth or Dare writer/director Jeff Wadlow seems to think the answer is to take a familiar game that most of us associate with a time of innocence, and turn it into something grisly…

On a night of drunken silliness, a group of college friends play a typical game of truth or dare. Each player must either give an honest answer to an uncomfortable question or accept a challenge to do something embarrassing or even a little dangerous. Things take a sinister turn when the game becomes possessed and begins to infiltrate their everyday lives. If they fail to answer a question or fulfil a challenge, then the consequence is death.

While this premise has merit, Wadlow’s execution is downright laughable. When the game possesses a friend in the group, it warps their face and over enlarges their smile. The resultant look doesn’t emulate a deranged clown like Pennywise, or a psychopathic villain like the Joker, it just looks like a ridiculous Snapchat filter. It’s pretty funny stuff, and not at all frightening.

It doesn’t help that this unintentionally comical narrative is populated with unlikeable, cookie-cutter characters, from Lucy Hale’s (Pretty Little Liars, Dude) innocent, girl next door Olivia, to Landon Liboiron’s (Frontier, Hemlock Grove) seemingly nice, but ultimately untrustworthy stranger Carter.

Even the production quality is terrible. The opening scene is a mish-mashed montage of footage filmed from iPhones and proper cameras. It’s like Wadlow said to the actors – don’t worry about the script, just go out and shoot some shit with your phones while you’re having fun and we’ll put it together. There’s nothing wrong with shooting on an iPhone, but pick one or the other, stick to it and keep it consistent.

Besides some work on Bates Motel, Wadlow’s filmography is fairly light on horror and thriller. His only real claims to fame are Kick Ass 2 and Never Back Down… which are hardly titles to boast about. Production company Blumhouse Productions, on the other hand, have had some real stand out films in recent times, with Joel Edgerton’s The Gift and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but they’re also responsible for the Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchises. When they hit they hit, but when they miss, they miss by a mile.

Blumhouse Productions’ latest effort Truth or Dare is so bad it’s almost good – it won’t send tingles down your spine, but it’ll give you some laughs as a bunch of stupid teenagers do stupid stuff.

Truth or Dare is available in Australian cinemas from April 12

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – A Quiet Place

Engulfed in a thick fog of tension, A Quiet Place is an early contender for the best horror film of 2018.


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The best horror movies are those that prey on very basic, primal fears; things like don’t breathe, don’t blink or don’t move. In A Quiet Place, writer/actor/director John Krasinski implores his audience and his characters to not make a sound. The film, set in the not-too-distant future, centres around a family who must navigate their lives in total silence after the world is overrun by vicious creatures who hunt via noise, where even the slightest tremor or tinkle could alert them to your presence.

Krasinski really sells us on this bleak and unforgiving future. The fear and dread conveyed with every creaking floorboard or crunchy leaf underfoot is immediately arresting, and effective direction from Krasinski, in only his third feature film, envelops the theatre, getting under your skin and putting you on edge right from the get-go. Few films are as adept as crafting tension as A Quiet Place; prepare to peer though your fingers, dig your nails into the armrest and squirm like you’ve got an eel in your undies.

A distinct lack of a dialogue – the characters communicate via subtitled American Sign Language –means the viewer is scanning the auditory soundscape for every scuffle and snarl as much as they are probing the frame for shadows. The absence of dialogue shifts the focus onto the facial expressions of the actors, as well as the subtle and unnerving sound design. Rising to the occasion, Krasinski and real-life as well as onscreen wife Emily Blunt are great in conveying this paralysing terror through their performances.

There are more than a few hair-raising jump scares that punctuate the tension, and the film doesn’t waste time in getting to the point; an in medias res prologue sets the scene before leaping ahead several months to establish the family in their new normal; fishing in the river and washing laundry all in total silence.

And while the film is light on specifics – this isn’t a sci-fi/thriller that goes to great lengths to explore the how and why of its gruesome antagonists – it also isn’t a horror film where you never get a good look at the predator lurking in the bushes. The most immediate and obvious comparison is Ridley Scott’s Alien – the fear of the unknown and the undefeatable pervades every scene – but JJ Abrams’ Super 8 and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs also spring to mind.

An overreliance on Marco Beltrami’s strings signposts some of the biggest scares and the rather simplistic concept feels a little strung out across the 95-minute runtime, with the finale arriving in a hurry, but this is a compelling and gruesome creature feature from Krasinski, and one that will enthral genre fans and general audiences alike.

A Quiet Place is available in Australian cinemas from April 5

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures


Movie Review – Winchester

The Australian Spierig brothers are back with a new horror film, but will they build on their existing success, or rest on their laurels?

⭐ ⭐ ½     
Elle Cahill

When drug addicted psychiatrist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is asked to travel out to the Winchester manor and assess widower Sarah Winchester’s (Helen Mirren) mental state following the death of her husband, he is immediately intrigued. Heiress to the Winchester fortune and firearms corporation, Sarah has spent decades obsessively renovating the manor, with round-the-clock construction allowing her to build additional rooms reaching seven storeys high… but to what end? Perhaps she’s mad. Or perhaps it has something to do with the troubled souls of the many innocents who have fallen victim to Winchester weapons… it is for Price to decide.

Although set in the 1950s and loosely based on the true events of “the most haunted house in history”, Winchester is very relevant to today’s landscape. The film makes a point of singling out guns as the lead perpetrator in the death of innocent people and its clear that Sarah Winchester is frightfully aware of the damage her products are causing to society.

With the exception of Mirren, the cast is almost entirely made up of Australian talent, with Sarah Snook (The Dressmaker, Not Suitable for Children) and Angus Sampson (Mad Max: Fury Road) supporting Clarke. Mirren is serene and wise in her role as Winchester, but it’s Clarke’s performance as Price that is the show stealer as he struggles to separate reality from his drug-addled haze.

Directed by the Australian Spierig brothers, who brought us the mind-bending Predestination in 2014 and last year’s Jigsaw, Winchester relies heavily on old school horror techniques. The scares are fast, but not overplayed, with the presence of supernatural beings indicated through slammed doors and suspicious thuds. The Winchester mansion is also an incredible set piece and almost a character in itself, with staircases that lead to nowhere, flat winding hallways and rooms that are bordered up with planks of wood, all of which adds to the overall eerie mood.

Winchester is an interesting film given the current climate surrounding gun violence in the US, and the scares are both well-orchestrated and heart-pounding, but it doesn’t bring anything original to the horror genre and at times, it becomes predictable.

Winchester is available in Australian cinemas from February 22

Image courtesy of StudioCanal 

Movie Review – Insidious: The Last Key

 A poor copy of James Wan’s signature style, The Last Key will suffice when there’s nothing else on Netflix.


⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

It’s been seven years since the original Insidious stormed the box office. A carnival ride that never felt cheap, Insidious was surprisingly good and made director James Wan the closest thing modern horror has to a household name. In the intervening years, the series has churned out two other films, and Wan has moved from classical horror (The Conjuring) to blockbuster fare like Furious 7. Sadly, the Insidious franchise has failed to move forward in his absence. Instead, it’s become steadily more derivative and frustrating, with The Last Key representing the lowest point of Wan’s well-imitated style.

Following the events of Insidious: Chapter 3 (a prequel to the original film), Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) receives a call for help from her childhood home in Five Keys, New Mexico. Initially reluctant, Elise is drawn in by the desire to right the wrongs she witnessed (and ran away from) as a child. Tagging along are her now permanent sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), still as annoying as ever. Once there, Elise digs into her past to confront a demon she accidentally freed as a child – Keyface.

The thing about The Last Key is that it’s noisier than it is scary. Aside from a few genuine shocks, director Adam Robitel seems content to blast sound in place of actual horror. A ghost moves down a hallway? Better shred those violins, that’ll make people jump! Akin to a high school bully who punches people for flinching, Last Key’s tricks are exhausting. Making matters worse is a sequence midway through the film where Tucker uses a microphone with horrendous feedback. The charitable view would be to call the sound design unnerving, but it ends up being more painful than scary.

Wan became famous for walking the audience through his haunted houses and letting them become familiar with the layout before populating it with ghosts and ghouls. Last Key doesn’t need that because the house looks exactly like every other one in the franchise. Robitel hasn’t created a new space; he’s just borrowed the same basement and closet that Wan had so much fun with in the first two films. We’re going through the motions here – the bed, the hallway, the door – it’s all been done before and far better elsewhere.

Where Last Key does differentiate itself is in its subtextual concerns – namely abuse and how silence perpetuates it. Keyface physically locks people’s voices and souls away, and (partially) thanks to Elise he’s been doing this for a while now. There’s rich thematic ground there to explore how both individuals and institutions turn a blind eye to real world ghouls, but unfortunately, Robitel fails to see that potential and instead keeps throwing frustrating noise scares at you.

We live in the era of #timesup and #metoo, but Last Key isn’t thoughtful enough to be included in that conversation. As it stands, it’ll do fine as something to pass the time when it inevitably arrives on streaming services, but will ultimately end up remembered as the low point of the Insidious franchise – the last gasp of a series that was running out of breath two films ago.

Insidious: The Last Key is available in Australian cinemas from February 8 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dark, twisted and hilarious. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to grow in strength with his disturbing latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

It seems the pattern of disturbingly good films by Yorgos Lanthimos continues to increase in range. For those familiar with his films of Dogtooth and The Lobster, Lanthimos’s latest film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, also explores a dark concept but with a twisted sense of humour. Once again, these two genres are balanced effortlessly throughout and the finish product is yet another masterclass from the director.

Colin Farrell stars in the lead role and is unfortunately placed into another caliginous scenario that sees him tested in different strengths. Without giving away the film’s main trick, Farrell plays a father of two with a loving wife, and is put to make an extremely difficult decision that will end up affecting the family dynamic forever.

Aside from watching the situation unfold as Farrell battles to resolve his dilemma, the entire universe Lanthimos creates is intriguing. From the very moment the film begins, you get the sense of unnatural behaviour just by the dialogue between two characters and this unease never leaves the screen.

It’s an almost like an entirely different world of humans, but they’re just not very human like. At least to what our society is used to. Great examples of this are the astute observations and over politeness each character exuberates. It’s just unnatural and purposefully executed as a subtle commentary on society. But moreover, it’s all awkwardly hilarious.

This is why I love Lanthimos’ films. Not only are they simply exploring a compelling dark concept, they’re quite funny at the same time. Most of these jokes comes from being in such unique situations that other films can’t make, because they’re simply not in the same position. Numerous times a character would say something in such an unusual but nonchalant way that it becomes hilarious to watch. And when it came moments of humour that were of the darker taste, these were executed flawlessly and without overstepping boundaries. Indeed, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fine piece for showing that the art of black comedy in 2017 is alive and well.

My only gripe with the film is that it is a bit of a slow burn and it can feel particularly sluggish at times. Especially within the middle third, where you’ve been introduced to the setup and are simply waiting for it to hurry to the climax. Part of this feels like it could have been edited or reworked to have more going on to keep interest, like in The Lobster.

But again, this is a minor complaint. The film is acted perfectly, with veteran actors of Farrell and Nicole Kidman as his wife particular standouts. Though the cinematography isn’t of anything scenic or picturesque, it does well to capture the darkness and unnatural tone on characters that the film clearly aims towards.

For lovers of The Lobster and black comedy films with unique and interesting concepts, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a fantastic film and one sure to be on top ten lists for this year.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is available in Australian cinemas from November 16.

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 2017

Movie Review – Jigsaw

Despite dying all the way back in Saw III, Jigsaw is back for an eighth twisted and gruesome game after a lengthy absence.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

More than a decade has passed since John Kramer, a.k.a. the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) – the man notorious for kidnapping people and putting them in traps that force them to mutilate themselves to escape death as a means of creating a newfound appreciation for life – and his circle of successors all met grisly ends. The violence has ceased, until now; as police shoot down a petty thug, a triggering mechanism is activated and sets in motion a new game played by five people trapped in a remote barn filled with diabolically lethal things at every turn. Mangled bodies start turning up, and as the investigative team, including Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and forensic doctors Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) and Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) dig deeper, all the evidence points to the late Jigsaw as the perpetrator.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch to predict that 2010’s Saw 3D was never going to be The Final Chapter as it claimed; nothing in Hollywood, especially in the horror genre (and especially one of the horror genre’s highest-grossing franchises) ever stays dead anymore, so by that logic Jigsaw was always inevitable. The good news is that its source is one of the genre’s most inventive, if not for the faint of heart series, and despite it having narratively driven itself into a dead end, this belated eighth entry manages to breathe a bit of new life into its corpse, doing its many fans justice and pulling off a few neat tricks of its own.

Taking the reins from its Australian creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell (who remain as producers) is, appropriately, another Aussie horror filmmaking duo, The Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Predestination). Their biggest adjustment to proceedings is the visual style – gone is the grainy, low-grade camerawork, grungy bathrooms and rust as far as the eye can see, updated with slick cinematography and, for the first time, shiny and new-looking killing instruments. The Spierigs are aware that audience expectations have changed since Saw last soaked our screens in blood, and so the story deviates from the usual formula too; we follow the police investigation equally as much as the victims of the latest game, veering slightly away from the torture-porn trappings that later entries became and closer to the psychological thrills of the first film.

Which is not to say that Jigsaw isn’t gory; there are new traps here that rank up there with the series’ stomach-churning best, from the body-shredding spiral blade contraption to the flesh-cutting laser collars – fans can rest easy with the amount of blood and guts spilled. Pleasingly, after being sidelined for so long, the iconic Jigsaw himself takes centre stage once again, with the mystery of how exactly he has returned forming the core of the plot. Bell still dominates in his signature role, and the story that once again explores his backstory alongside his legacy makes a franchise that felt all out of places to go feel like it actually has plenty of fresh directions to take us in.

Updates aside, this is still quintessentially Saw, which does mean it shares the series problems too; most of which usually boil down to its writing. Though tricksy, it’s always relied on quite a large suspension of disbelief given the huge coincidences that cause everything to fall into place just right and push each plot point into place, and Jigsaw is no different. Again, the twist ending is awfully contrived and frankly ridiculous if you put even a smidgen of thought into it.

But though it doesn’t quite reach the franchise high point, Jigsaw surpasses a good portion of the sequels and exceeds expectations; though it won’t win Saw many new fans, and its potential as a series reboot remains to be seen, this is an interesting and satisfying enough long-awaited follow-up.

Jigsaw is available in Australian cinemas from November 02

 Image courtesy of Studio Canal Australia 2017